Challenge: Mastering Cheffery

great cooks

Yup. I just made up a word. 

It seems like a lifetime since I wasn’t t talking about The Kid. He’s fine. Starting second 12th grade year soon. Hopefully, he’ll finish this time. 

But back to my fancy new word. I was talking to The Hero and he said something really interesting to me:

“Dee, you’re good at a lot of things…. I wonder what you would be like if you took one thing and just mastered it. I don’t care what it is. I would just like to see how great you could be at something.”

Oh yeah? Is that a challenge? Because I accept and annihilate worthy challenges. I  had to decide what I wanted to master though. Can you guess? Yes, food.

I’ve probably written it somewhere on the blog, but I spend a lot of time thinking about food. I think about breakfast while eating dinner. I’m always planning my next meal or how to feed people I love. Food for me is love. Not in a co-dependent way, but it’s my love for people expressed in taste buds. Case in point: I don’t necessarily like chocolate desserts, but I perfected chocolate cake because The Hero loves it. Or… interesting birthday cake combos for The Kid (the year of the almond cookie cups with lemon cupcakes inside) because I love him. Food = love.

Sigh. I have to go back. I forgot that I haven’t been writing. On July 14, I decided to start the 4-Hour Body eating plan. It’s… boring to say the very least: meat, legume and vegetable. Every meal. Five days straight. No bread, fruit, cheese (OMG… I miss cheese!), dairy or sweets. Want to know why I stick with it though? The sixth day… cheat day. A day devoted to scarfing any and everything I love in a 20-hour period (yes, I try to stay up 20 hours just to eat) without counting calories or thinking about portion control. Chili for breakfast on Monday isn’t so bad when I know on Saturday I’m going to have cinnamon toast crunch French toast Belgian waffles with four orders of candied bacon and a side of red velvet pancakes from Super Chefs. Not bad at all.

For all it’s greatness (lost 10 pounds), like I said, it’s boring. On Thursday morning, those lentils are like eating round pieces of sawdust at 5:30 a.m. So I figured if I’m going to master cheffery, I need to start with my bland diet. First thing was to figure out what beans are available to me. Since I didn’t eat beans regularly, all I could think were black, pinto, kidney, Great Northern and lentils. After a little research, I found there are hundreds of different beans. Hundreds, people. Who knew?

The second thing I found out: beans get old. So now, as an emerging bean snob, I only buy them in bulk from Whole Foods, North Market, or Luckys. When I become a full snob, I’ll only order them from Rancho Gordo. Until then, Whole Foods, North Market, and Luckys work. As an evolving snob, I had to up my seasoning and spice game too. Plain salt?! How DARE you?! We only eat smoked salt here. I’m now starting to experiment with chipotle, fleur de sal, pink Himalayan and merlot salts. I’m considering making coffee salt. Yes. Coffee salt. I went to Penzys Spices and bought a bunch of spices to make my own blends. I guess I’m a spice snob now too because all the Penzys spices are sitting on the counter, waiting for me to throw away all the Food Club containers in my cabinet. Anything to make those beans taste better.

Then there’s the meat. Like beans, eating meat the same way all the time sucked. I had to figure out a way to flavor it without added sugar. You won’t believe it, but out of nine spices and blends at the grocery store, only two of them didn’t contain sugar. TWO! I have a date with the spice grinder to make my own. First on the list: sazon and Chinese five-spice. 

Finally, I’m going to actually write down my cooking notes. I substitute or at the last minute have a brilliant idea that another ingredient will taste better, but never remember either what combinations or amounts I used. I definitely didn’t write down tasting notes or comments from The Hero. Not anymore. I’ll be chronicling everything. 

The next phase of the plan is to consider culinary classes. I don’t know that I want to be a chef, but the idea of learning culinary techniques is actually exciting. And maybe with some formal knowledge, I’ll be better equipped to develop my own recipes. Like coffee salt. 

Milestones

Pearl Cleage quote

It’s been a LONG time since I wrote on the blog. More than two months.

Okay.

So what’s been going on? Life shifts. When I was in the midst of it all, I thought I was literally go outta sane. Losing my grip on life in so many ways. I needed time. I needed to focus on the abrupt changes seemingly wanting attention all at once and politely ask each one to allow me to handle one thing at a time. Miraculously, it worked.

May. Let’s just start there. The Kid returned to my dad’s house about a week before he would have graduated. Let it be known that he didn’t come back on his own volition. Life forced him back. He currently lives with my dad and is figuring out what adulthood means, which includes finishing high school, getting his license, and finding his way in life.

Fine. Like I’ve said before, this was never about him. At least not from my life vantage point. My son leaving was the impetus for a bunch of life changes in me. I still don’t know what triggered an awareness of me now, but that one thing, my first child leaving the nest, set off a chain reaction that at first scared me, but then helped me blossom into the remainder of my life.

One of those changes was a shift in what I want to write about here on Honesty’s Protegee. Crafts, recipes and all that is cool, but is not where my heart lies. My deepest passion is in revelations and evolution. Recognizing those moments when I can see the progress from Point A on my life journey to Point B. And this Point A-Point B revelation is huge. Life altering.

There are a million blogs on how to make a dress from curtains, 90 ways to decorate with two-liter Coke bottles, how to make my own nail polish. What’s not out here is a lot of what happens after you feel like ‘WTF?! My body/mind/soul is evolving and I’m scared as shit because I don’t know what to do!’ Some people call it mid-life crisis, but since I don’t plan to die when I’m 78, I’m calling it a milepost.

I’ve wrestled with this. During my time off, several other bloggers have had milestone moments and transitioned their blogs from one focus to another. Some I stayed with, others I didn’t. What took me so long to admit that I couldn’t continue on the path I was walking was losing readers. For a long time, the numbers meant something to me. But I got past that fear.

Here I am. A half-empty-nesting, looking-at-40, imperfect, gracefully aging, coming-into-full-mature-womanness human. And I love it. I embrace it. There are hard days, but the new freedom of not giving a rat’s ass about what another person thinks is liberating. So I hope you stay around. I make no promises about posting. I’m not doing it for the numbers anymore. I’m doing it for the love. The love I have for me and the love I have for the freedom of every one of us unapologetically being exactly who we are at every moment without shame, insincerity, or fear.

After a Month….

I’m finally able to come here and post an update. I know… I left you hanging for a LONG time. Thanks for sticking it out.

I guess I should pick up from the last post. So… you know that The Kid, at the wise old age of 18.29 years old, decided that he wanted to be an adult, right? No? Let me catch you up…. Actually, go read this post and come back. I’ll wait.

On April 28, The Kid caught a bus to Arkansas. Since the he lived in a hotel, slept in a tent under the stars, had 99% of his stuff stolen and may be facing homelessness on Memorial Day. As his birthing human, I am dealing with a lot of emotions behind this and the idea of presenting you with  this ‘oh… my life is fantastic!’ facade seems fake. So  I stopped writing.

But… since I’m here and you’re reading, I’m going to pull back the curtain in Oz. I’m going through it on an intimate level. As a woman who had a Kid, I tried really hard to put the best of myself into that Kid and living through his extreme growing pains is a lonely road to travel. Because it’s not even about The Kid. This right here? This is all about me. All. About. Me. Let me explain.

When I was crying and picking over sushi with my sister-friends, I realized that The Kid is an extreme version of me at about the same age. Blindly in love with his dad, I would take spontaneous trips in my new Grand Am for an indiscriminate number of days and come home whenever I felt like it. I was ‘grown’… but not really. When Val J told me to either put my big girl panties on or continue to wear my little girl panties, I chose the too-tight little girl panties. I wasn’t ready to be grown. My friends pointed out this obvious fact to me.

Then The Hero said something about me and my pride and how The Kid is doing what I do, blah, blah, blah. I don’t know if it was because he was saying it (read: he’s not a woman/mother so how could he even BEGIN to understand my pure, soul-deep angst about my Kid being out there for bad people to abuse?! UGH! *eye roll*) or The Kid was really being like me without the ability to pull back  before jumping into some deep crap. After a month of The Kid being gone, I realized The Hero and my friends were right: he’s like me without the knowledge that jumping off the cliff without checking the parachute is a bad move. Sorry you inherited that, Kid, but if you would’ve listened…. I guess there’s no sense in crying over spilled milk, right?

There are way too many things I’ve discovered about myself since April 28, but I’ll sum it up to there is no way I can control legal adults. No. Way. But what I CAN control is ME. And I had to get my mind right and allow life to teach The Kid the lessons he didn’t want to learn from his dad and me. Yes, it hurts to sit on the phone three or four states away and listen to The Kid’s misfortunes. But then I have to redirect my thoughts and remind myself that this was HIS choice, despite any and every maternal instinct to drive The Lady out to Arkansas, tie him up and bring him home. His experience is for him, but the lesson of letting go and being available for advice versus being an authoritarian and telling him what to do is my journey in this.

So, to that end, I haven’t done much except deal with me. No new recipes or DIY projects. Just trying to sit with all the new feelings that tapped into some old, buried feelings and figuring out how I can live with this and continue to enjoy my life without my boy in the same city. Let me tell you… it’s been a real practice in gentility and self-enlightenment. For real.

Thanks for sticking around though. I’m not sure if this is me getting back to my normally scheduled programming or if I’ll need more time before I can come back all polished and new. I’m taking it one post at a time. Right now, I’m enjoying my new hair (or lack thereof) and getting comfortable with sitting with, and acknowledging, the feelings I wanted to stay in my basement, but picked the locks and found a way into my living room. We’re all having several glasses of wine while simultaneously having several seats.

The Kid’s Last Day

Kid's Last Day as a Kid

 

This weekend I did a lot of crying and thinking. Crying because my son’s departure is like ripping a bandage off a sore that’s stuck to the gauze on a hairy arm. Thinking because I really had to come to terms with the fact that this is outside of my control and he’s going to be fine.

My dad made the trip down to Columbus yesterday to spend some time with The Kid before he left. Like me, he asked him, once again, to reconsider leaving right now, but after accepting The Kid’s resolve, resorted to giving advice, cash and love.

To document our last day together, I decided to take a few pictures from our stops in our four-hour hang out time. We planned to go get food and catch a movie, but that didn’t quite work out sooo we ended up talking about his plans and how he came to this decision.

Wait… I need to go back. The last time I was here, he was going into the wilderness. Without a plan. Or a tent. Or even a good pair of shoes. Since then, he has decided that he’s going to Arkansas, a place that’s far enough from home and where the cost of living isn’t too bad and he can live off a small wage. He’s taking his phone, bank card and a tent. Since three weeks ago, some things have improved. Others – not graduating – didn’t, BUT he said he will definitely research some online school options or return once he settles down and has an address. I can live with that without waking up in the middle of the night worrying.

Now back to today. We had a very sincere and open heart-to-heart conversation about life. We realized that in the last month, we learned more about each other’s life experiences than we had in the last 18 years. He was grateful for me sharing some of mine with him and I appreciated knowing more about him and his life and goals. We both cried (him a few tears, me a river) because we’re scared: he doesn’t know what life has in store for him, but he’s ready and I don’t want to turn my baby over to life just yet. Once we got past the feelings though, we really talked. And listened.

When I could hear him without judgment or bias, something inside of me found a profound place of peace. He talked to me from a place I’d never been open to receiving before. And I knew, in that moment, that we were at the place where we all speak the same language. Our souls recognized each other in a different way than mother and son. We were two souls on a shared journey, seeking to experience this in our own ways.

Am I sad? Of course. As his mother, this is a major emotional upheaval. But in the midst of crying and worrying and asking the Universe to keep him safe, I’m also hopeful. I don’t think about all that could wrong, but about all that can go right, that he’ll find his stride and grow into the person he wants to be.

Dealing with Loss

Loss

(c) A Celebration of Women

If you didn’t read about The Kid’s journey into the wilderness, please read it. It will prepare you for this post. And I read a post from OMG Chronicles around the same time of Decision 2014.

Loss is something we will all have to deal with at some point in time be it the loss of a parent, spouse, friend or some other person or  being close to us. But loss is not just linked to physical death only. Loss can occur anytime one person decides to leave another person’s life with or without closure.

I say all of that to say that nothing prepared me more for The Kid’s departure more than my mom’s death. I think the natural progression of things, the fact that parents die first, not kids, helped me understand how I to deal with ‘losing’ my child. And the reality is, two of the most important people in my lifetime, chose to leave and I, on a very high level, wanted to experience this.

Yes. I wanted this experience. I have no idea for what. Based on what I know right now about myself, it’s to show that I can actually live through and find myself learning from a good amount of adversity. But, of course, I’m going through it right now, not done with it.

If you read the post about The Kid, you’d know that I agreed to accept my reality as it is right now, not fight it. Resistance is futile. Resistance says ‘hey… I don’t believe you. Stick around and help me make my life stressful.’ Not me. I’m not about that ‘woe is me’ life.

So I’m going with the five stages of grief:

Denial: At first I denied that my kid would make this choice. Surely a human I grew and birthed couldn’t even fathom such a decision. It goes against everything inherent in my family’s bloodline. We’re not quitters when it comes to things that matter (I had to clarify because we do quit some things). We value education and attaining wisdom. We don’t intentionally cause each other undo angst even if it means telling lies. It’s not what we do. Who is this kid?!

Anger: When he first dropped this news I had to restrain myself from choking him. It wasn’t fair. I put all I had into this kid and THIS is the result?! Are you kidding me?! FML! I really screwed up as a parent. Some part of me envied him the ability to walk away. A small part. Animalistic probably because the city girl in me balks at the whole wilderness idea.

Bargaining: I tried to reason with him. Can you do this for me, as you mom, the person you say you love the most? What can I do that will make you change your mind or reconsider such drastic measures? I needed to bargain.

Depression: A week ago Monday? Um… yeah… I was crying on the DL and trying really good to hold it together at work. I told my superiors the basics about the situation because I was sure I would need a mental health day that week. Embarrassing? Yes, but necessary since I needed to continue to function.

Acceptance: Then came the moment. It was clear as day: This is outside of my control. Struggling with the will of another being never ends up well, especially when the other being has made a solid decision. Why exert even more energy when he is adamant about this decision? What does that do for either of us? He knows that I don’t support this decision, but that I love him like my next breath. What more is there to do? I’m still waiting for the answer on that. Until then, I accept what is at the moment of this writing and prepare for it as best I can.

Decision 2014

I missed you guys. Really. But things have been… interesting.

Image

In the last month, I’ve been struggling with how to move forward with the blog. I wanted to post recipes, but the circumstances of my life felt like doing so would minimize the experiences I’ve been going through these last 32 days. And then when I thought about getting back on track….

The Kid just confirmed that he is not going to finish high school and would, in fact, be leaving on Easter to ‘go out into the wilderness and find himself’.

Read it again if you need to. I’ll wait….

He had a nine-page written presentation and all. That was a week ago Sunday. Let me keep it really real: when he said this a week ago, I was on 10 in .000000001 nanoseconds fueled by fear and anger. This CANNOT be my kid. This person, this man-child in front of me, could not be the one I birthed. Can’t be. He CAN’T be making this choice five weeks before graduation. This. Is. Not. My. Life.

Through my tears and hysteria, I got up and walked out. F*** this!

I called The Hero and, surprisingly through my snorting, tears and screaming, he understood the gist of what transpired. And he was an ear while I circled the block and got my mind right to go back and have this conversation with The Kid and his dad.

I went back to hear his reasoning for the decision. Despite how I feel and think about this decision, my child is intelligent. His mind, while extremely young, idealistic and lacking experience, is brilliant. The end goal, finding himself, was not something I consciously knew at his age. I was moseying along and came to a hard decision point by circumstance, not conscious choice.

Back to the conversation. The manner in which The Kid is going to find himself is what upset me. No planning or preparation, just walking out the door. A young, black male in a society that is inherently not on his side just out there living by the seat of his pants. Sigh.

But this decision is not about me. There is a lesson for me in it and I am open to learning it, but the reality is, Decision 2014 is about The Kid. It affects The Kid directly. It will impact The Kid directly. And as he reminded us, in the society that he abhors and seeks to escape, he is an adult and has the legal right to make this decision regardless of how we feel as his parents. Telling us was a courtesy, an opportunity for us to wrap our minds around what would happen. It’s not about what we did or didn’t do as parents: It’s about our kid testing it to see if it was good or not.

O. Kay.

As I sit here and type this, I’m extremely calm. Not a false sense of calm either. There will be no meltdowns at work or mental health days. I won’t go bake cake and eat it because I’m worried. I understand one fundamental truth about life: The only thing within my control is me. No matter how much I hate his decision, this is his life and his choice and I accept it. I could commit him for insanity, but that would be me imposing my will on him. And he’d prove he wasn’t insane and disappear for real. Plus, I like to talk and deal with things and the tricky route seems downright… tricky.

Will I think about him? Of course! He’s my first-born kid. Will I worry? Probably. I know I’ll be concerned for that first month or so not knowing where he’ll be or even if he’s safe. Will I let it consume me? No. My life, in society, will still move forward and I choose to accept that over my child, who will and has, chosen his life experience over what I want for him. I refuse to fight him, but I don’t refuse to accept reality and reality is, right now, this will happen. And I understand the will of this particular teenager even if I don’t understand this particular teenager’s choice.

So… have a sip of wine and bear with me as I get back into the groove of blogging again.

Chicken Quinoa Casserole

Chicken Quinoa Casserole

Don’t let the picture fool you. This tastes fantastic.

I came up with this as an alternative to the usual chicken, rice and broccoli casserole. I’ve never made that casserole and honestly, I like quinoa better. As I laid around thinking about dinner Sunday, this dish came to mind. The colors from the green onions, red pepper and orange pepper made it visually appealing. Chicken broth makes everything taste better, especially when you make it with the little chicken buillion cubes in the Hispanic aisle. Fantastico! And since The Hero bought institutional-size bags of vegetables, I’m always looking for ways to use them up. Making the cream of chicken soup from scratch is also

What’s also great about this is you can make it to your particular tastes. Vegetarian? Skip the chicken and use vegetable broth. House of Meat? Double the chicken, reduce the veggies. Not a fan of cream soup? Thicken it with corn starch. Whatever you do will be fine. Trust me.

Chicken Quinoa Casserole

  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • ½ cup chicken broth
  • ½ cup milk
  • 4 ounces cooked chicken, shredded
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 cup quinoa
  • 1 red bell pepper, diced
  • 1 yellow bell pepper, diced
  • ½ bunch scallions, sliced
  • 1 16-ounce container mushrooms, sliced
  • 1½ cups Normandy blend vegetables

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

For the cream of chicken soup: Melt the butter in a saucepan. Whisk in the flour. Remove the pan from heat and slowly whisk in the chicken broth. Add the milk and return to the heat, whisking continuously. Cook until the soup thickens. Remove from heat and set aside.

For the casserole: Cook the chicken. Allow to cool, shred and add to a casserole dish.

In a small saucepan, add the chicken broth and quinoa. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cook for about 15 minutes. While the quinoa simmers, saute the vegetables. Add a little salt, pepper and garlic powder to the mixture (the salt pulls out the water from the mushrooms, which will help reduce the amount of liquid in the casserole). Add the cooked vegetables to the casserole dish with the chicken. Meanwhile, heat the Normandy blend in the microwave for about 3 minutes. Drain any water and add to the casserole dish. Add the quinoa and cream of chicken soup to the casserole dish and stir. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes. Let the casserole rest for 10 minutes before serving.

Chicken Quinoa Casserole